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‘The Sessions’ provides lessons in sex and sensitivity

It was hard to picture how “The Sessions” (2012) would ever navigate its subject, real-life polio victim Mark O’Brien’s quest to lose his virginity, iron lung be damned. Yes, the late O’Brien, a Berkeley journalist and poet, had written about his experience going to a sex therapist, so there was something of a template. (He was also profiled in the 1996 documentary “Breathing Lessons.”) But what tone to expect from a dramatization? Cloying? Intolerably depressing? Even, dare it be said, a bit of the same gaping that “L.A. Law” did at the whole sex-surrogacy concept way back when? None of the above. John Hawkes, Oscar nominee Helen Hunt, and writer-director Ben Lewin deliver a dramatically measured and wryly humorous film that’s moving without being draining. Hawkes, a chameleonic wonder in the otherwise overrated “Winter’s Bone,” similarly disappears into his role here, a mix of anxiety and anticipation, of matter-of-fact strength and suppressed
despair. Hunt, as Salem native Cheryl Cohen Greene, does brave work (you wonder what sort of career spike Hunt might see) and intriguingly bookends her performance as a paraplegic’s lover in 1992’s “The Waterdance.” William H. Macy is key to the lighter moments as a hipster priest advising O’Brien; Moon Bloodgood (“Faster”) is a surprise as O’Brien’s acerbically witty caretaker. Extras: Cast interviews; on Blu-ray, a segment with Lewin, 66, himself a polio survivor. (Fox, $22.98; Blu-ray, $29.99)


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